Whereabouts is a beautiful novel by Jhumpa Lahiri, but it wasn’t written by the same Jhumpa Lahiri. This is a book by a different writer, a different woman. And it displays, in place of all that she has given up, an incredible power ... a vivid portrait of a middle-aged, single woman who sometimes dreads being by herself...and at other times dreads the company of others ... ordinary circumstances are described as extraordinary events. One stunning passage chronicles an errand to a favorite stationery store, where the narrator stocks up on supplies ... she wields her storytelling gifts in astonishing ways. By sidestepping a traditional plot, Lahiri is free to explore everyday rituals through fragments that emphasize voice over action ... These dueling contradictions have always been Lahiri’s themes, but never before have they been expressed with such disquieting intimacy ... Lahiri is a fearless writer. She renders the details of her characters’ lives with dazzling precision, illuminating not only their hearts and minds, but their souls as well. It takes a kind of conjuring to write about people the way Lahiri does—deliberate yet emotional, unguarded yet mysterious, haunted by the burdens of life yet rarely without a secret hope for the future ... in Italian, she doesn’t deny her readers anything. She gives us even more of herself.
This is a very internalized novel, where nothing really occurs. We learn about our unnamed protagonist's past (her father died when she was a teen) and her present (she can't sleep well unless she hears the city traffic), and how then and now intersect ... In this beautiful novel, which might not appeal to fans of plot-driven narratives, the reader becomes immersed in the head of its subject ... Without artifice, Lahiri's elegant phrases throughout the book reveal as much about her character as they do about the author's understanding of her environment and the people who inhabit it ... this reviewer's sole regret is that he wishes Whereabouts was longer so he could linger a bit more with Lahiri's meditative and lyrical prose.
The effect is impressionistic, the story, such as it is, unfolding in fragments, a collection of vignettes and condensed meditations ... The dailiness of life is emphasized, and the intimate voice—a diarist’s voice—feels more like that of someone talking to herself than to you. This is not the kind of book that is particularly concerned with making the reader feel welcomed ... a disquieting pattern emerges: in almost every ordinary situation there is something to bring the narrator down ... there is little room for lightness or playfulness in the narrator’s accounts ... None of the novel’s many brief, subjective meditations leads to a more developed or complex exploration of any broader aspect of the human condition. About whatever writing or research she might be doing now, or may have done in the past, or plans to do during her fellowship, we learn nothing ... lingering questions...made the novel’s denouement feel not quite real to me ... I found the unsentimental, even ruthless, and at times excruciating account of chronic depressive disorder in Whereabouts utterly convincing. The book will strike a chord with anyone who has ever struggled with similar emotional pain ... But for all the gloom rising from these pages, there is more than a whiff of the romantic as well ... though we all know how dangerous it is to romanticize depression in real life, in a lyrical novel such as this one it can be very seductive ... The bare-bones style, not to mention the replacement with European characters of the Indians and Indian-Americans whose stories readers found so engaging in Lahiri’s previous fiction, won’t please everyone, of course ... I admire her stubborn insistence on the path she has chosen, which takes courage—a virtue perhaps especially bracing to see at a time when most other writers I know are feeling uncertain and cowed.
This is not a vastly eventful book ... but her Italian is not without style ... From the limitations of this new language she has since forged a voice that allows her to negotiate between the exterior world and the interiority of her narrator with a peculiar intensity. It is as if the non-reflexiveness of writing in Italian is forcing her to slow down, making her alive to tiny shifts of feeling as they unfold ... a stunningly brave mid-career decision not only to learn to speak and write a foreign language, but to create serious work in Italian. It has paid off. Lahiri’s humility, courage and intense attention have delivered this exquisite novel.
Told by an unnamed teacher in an unnamed city in northern Italy, it’s made up of 46 vignettes, rarely more than two or three pages long, many not obviously about very much. The narrator swims and gets her nails done; there’s a lot of eavesdropping and people-watching ... Part of the book’s peculiar magnetism lies in its clash of candour and coyness ... The spare style, you would guess, is partly an effect of Lahiri’s consciously restricted vocabulary, the comma-spliced sentences a hangover from Italianate syntax. The tone can be high as well as cool ... the novel’s hypnotically surgical gleam can verge on bleached sterility. There has always been a sense that Lahiri’s self-reinvention requires Italy to be a blank canvas, and whatever its strategic usefulness, her version of it doesn’t seem a place any fiction writer can profitably stay long. Watching her plot a return journey ought to be interesting.
We find ourselves in an unnamed city with that fashionable thing, an unnamed narrator. She maintains an elegant distance from us. She can be a little portentous ... Against her novel’s backdrop of patchy realism, Lahiri intends the universal but gets only the generic. A first-generation Indian American woman’s wish to cast off the weight of cultural identity and dodge the politics of representation to simply be 'a' writer is, however, an understandable and interesting response to pigeonholing. In this light, the choice of a deracinated cipher for narrator is hard to begrudge. Once again, though, the freedom might serve author more than reader. ... I long for Lahiri to break out of disciplined timekeeping and just let it wail for once. Hell, maybe even kick over the drum set. Doesn’t she want this too?
The work is pared down to its essence, and arrives like a holding space for work to come ... Whereabouts is composed of 46 chapters, or entries, sequenced over the course of a year ... narrative is not what this book is after. Each entry, most only a few pages long, stands on its own; any could be removed without leaving an absence ... The entries sometimes sing and sometimes perplex. This is partly because although written by the same narrator, they seem to emerge from a person not fully realized ... This is a difficult novel because the pain of the narrator’s isolation feels extremely real. The book sheds dramatic structure, connective tissue and other characters, as if they were all part of a lifelong cage ... Where the novel grows thin is when the 'I' begins nearly every sentence; the more the 'I' controls the language, the more the life of the mind seems to recede. Lahiri’s commitment — to write fiction in Italian, while also, in this novel, paring language down to a minimalist power — begins to create a generalized syntax, disconcertingly simplified ... It’s not that the descriptions are clumsy; rather, language glides along the surface of things. The polished words sometimes seem to lose contact with living existence, providing instead a skillful description of a two-dimensional world — a picture of a picture.
... strikes a victory for female representation ... [Lahiri] wrote Whereabouts in Italian and then translated it into English, which contributes to its sheen of deliberateness and distance ... Although Whereabouts is not a long novel, it offers plenty of time to kill. In place of a traditional plot, we’re given vignettes of quiet despair or anecdotes of minor irritation all distilled into a syrup of poisonous self-absorption. At times, I was tempted to hear a note of parody in the narrator’s relentless melancholy ... Depression is a perfectly legitimate subject for fiction, of course, and God knows it’s an exigent aspect of modern life. But the insular nature of the condition makes it extraordinarily difficult to render in an emotionally compelling way. The late, great Anita Brookner managed to pull off that feat to haunting effect, but in Whereabouts, descriptions of chilled despair have been so aggressively honed that there’s little for us to hang on to but the sighs.
... oddly compelling. The narrator vibrates with unexpressed emotion, sealed inside her painstaking detachment. Her observations are minute, precise, poetic ... Detachment—this notion of the individual passing through—has long been a preoccupation in Lahiri’s work, but here it feels obsessional, woven into the very structure of the novel, with each chapter a self-contained unit, pinned to a location that the ghostlike narrator barely touches. Even the delicate precision of the language contains this watchful separation: every word, inevitably, has been carefully chosen ... [Lahiri] has taken her writing apart and reconstructed it, sparely, to make something new, where silence matters. If the antidote to a year of solitude and trauma is art, then this novel is the answer. It is superb.
... elegant ... Unremittingly sad yet beautiful ... Occasionally, Ms. Lahiri tries too hard to be poetic ... But these are minor missteps. The book is filled with heartbreaking moments ... the novelistic equivalent of that grateful message, a lyrical if painful evocation of the fragility of life.
Lahiri’s writing is at once musical and practical, and I mean that as high praise. As a stylist, Lahiri writes with grace, and has a talent for finding profundity in the ordinary ... a sublime narrative derived from this skill at finding importance in life’s minutiae. Here, Lahiri breaks her own mold and delivers a slim, poignant novel ... Lahiri has previously discussed a strong connection to the Italian language, and while Whereabouts exhibits all the talent Lahiri possesses, it reads like an entirely different author wrote the book. The style shift is authentic, though, offering a new level of work from Lahiri ... The effect is a rare, engrossing connection to our narrator ... Perhaps more than anything this novel is a feat of poetry. Observations stun ... Lahiri lets her pen go wild, even if the prose is careful and compact. It’s this style that allows her to pull the reader into the narrator’s world. ... If we psychoanalyze the narrator, we can perhaps deduce that her loneliness is unconsciously self-constructed. The concept feels a little manufactured. Rather than living life as a victim of circumstance, one would like to see the narrator exhibit some agency, and we do, eventually, but it comes late. At times, I wished for something more to gently pull the book along, and perhaps that would deflect from the narrator’s melancholy ... While the book could use just a little heat, it still remains a lovely, stirring read. As she makes a small but important decision, it’s surprisingly sad to part with the narrator at the end of the book. This unassuming woman worms her way into your heart, and though the ending is satisfying, it’s still hard to close the cover.
The unnamed narrator of Whereabouts practices a starker form of refusal, rendered in short, journal-like fragments so strongly and rightly voiced that other books sound wrong when you turn to them ... The effect is of someone making her way carefully through the world, always aware of the void below, well practiced in navigating with a command that both is and isn’t what it seems.
It is remarkable ... There is no discernible plot in a traditional sense but rather an observation of how the apparent plotless nature of life is in itself the very story of what is to be. The ordinariness of life has been elevated to something extraordinary. There are, however, motifs that do offer some narrative connective tissue as a through line across the space and time of the work. It is primarily a meditation on solitude and loneliness; the narrator is vividly aware of her isolation but not victimised by it ... The most poignant passages in the novel are found in reflections upon the legacy of childhood, of parental influence, on the adult child ... There is an eerie quality to Lahiri’s prose that causes it to linger in the mind long after reading. Deceptively simple, the language is powerfully controlled to render the greatest possible impact on the reader without ever feeling overblown or hyperbolic. From the very first episode, there is an overwhelming confidence in the execution of this work. Not one word is wasted. A total absence of exposition ensures each micro-fiction is surgically edited to its barest, most beautiful bones. And yet, there is a warmth here that encourages great affection for the anonymous narrator. Written with intelligence, elegance, empathy and hypnotic power, Whereabouts is destined to become a book of the year.
“Whereabouts retains some of the qualities much of her English work has: a subtle character full of wry observations, a narrative tinged with melancholy ... As we follow the character, a professor, from the piazza to the bookstore to the bar, these vignettes deepen understanding of why she’s alone and her experience of it, which is neither wholly joyful nor tragic ... Lahiri plays with the idea of insider and outsider in a less obvious way than her books that are more intentionally focused on immigrant narratives ... The interiority of the narrative drives home that the stories we tell ourselves are the most powerful in shaping our destinies. But by the end of the novel, Lahiri also hints at how those stories can change. Lahiri’s latest offers an unintended escape during a pandemic—seemingly mundane scenes at a cafe or country house serve as a taste of an Italian life at a time when it seems further away than ever, a reminder to appreciate the colour in our own daily lives. But it also offers much of what Lahiri’s previous work does: simple but beautiful prose and a character worth getting to know.
Whereabouts offers a muted portrait of urban solitude marked by an undercurrent of longing ... A recurrent theme is how heavy time can weigh when alone. She feels her isolation more sharply during what was meant to be a restorative break ... As always, Lahiri writes with subtlety and delicacy. There is movement in her prose that reflects the subtle movement in her narrator's life. Whereabouts is the literary equivalent of slow cooking; it demands patience. Shifts between shadow and light, emptiness and fulfillment, irritation and enjoyment, and stasis and change carry us along ... she is a writer who obviously relishes pushing past barriers, including those she herself erects.
The short novel is partitioned into brisk, fleeting chapters ... A subtle progression can be detected as the vignettes build to her decision to finally leave her city for a visiting position at a university elsewhere. But primarily this is a mood novel, in which the theme of alienation familiar from Ms. Lahiri’s earlier books has been both transformed and aestheticized ... The tough, clipped sentences, dry and flammable as tinder, impress the qualities of her self-enforced isolation upon us, both its orderly comforts and its weightless moments of terror ... The book’s sparse, fragmentary form informs its feeling of emotional starvation. Be warned, then, that although this is the same Jhumpa Lahiri so many have read and loved in the past, it is also someone who has translated herself into a new style, one that may initially chafe and perturb.
he feeling closest to what is evoked by this beautifully crafted novel is a stroll during the blue hour on the first warm evening of spring ... One of the many joys of this little book, besides Lahiri’s usual gorgeous writing, is that there’s almost no plot ... Another lovely thing about the book is that you don’t even have to read its chapters in order. The novel is like a contemporary orarium, a collection of private devotions to read for insight and comfort before going to bed. Whereabouts is even physically small, just the size for a purse or a roomy pocket, to pull out and enjoy when you have a moment. It is a jewel of a book.
... an elegant narrative about the limits—physical and psychological—faced by an Italian woman in midlife ... a headier, more ephemeral book than Lahiri’s earlier ones. The characters are lightly sketched, though her prose shimmers with precise detail. The novel can be read as a character’s crisis of disorientation and loneliness. And it offers a philosophical parable on fears that keep us in the dark. Yet, as always with Lahiri, there’s more to unpack ... Lahiri has demonstrated that she is a master of cultural collisions. Whereabouts returns to her ever-present theme, now in an Italian setting, of the terrors and joys wrought by bridging worlds.
... spare, distilled, stripped of the textural details of [Lahiri's] earlier work but still concerned with identity and belonging, her constant themes ... Lahiri builds the story in discrete pieces, like a mosaic. In brief chapters with locating titles...Although they ultimately assemble themselves into a plot, construction is slow ... Even grounded by Lahiri’s gorgeous sentences, the experience of reading Whereabouts falls short. Despite the first-person narration, a chilly distance persists between the narrator and the reader, perhaps because the latter is so present to the book’s strict bit-by-bit construction. The individual chapters never quite converge into a satisfying whole. Readers who recall the warmth radiating from Gogol Ganguli as he comes of age in “The Namesake,” or the ache of the fractured multigenerational family in The Lowland, may find this book wanting ... Some readers may not warm to the story, though, even if they appreciate the incredible skill and effort involved in creating it. There’s a cool wind blowing through these pages, and nowhere to get lost or linger ... A brave and inquisitive writer, she followed her instincts and stepped into new territory.
Despite the novel’s picturesque setting, cosy armchair travel this is not. The narrator laments a life misspent and displays a certain surliness ... The book is so devoid of joy that I found myself startled by an exclamation mark, when friends wish the narrator 'good luck!' as she agrees to take up a fellowship abroad ... Literary fiction can hold loneliness (as exemplified by the novels of Anita Brookner) and plotlessness (Rachel Cusk’s Outline trilogy springs to mind). Lahiri’s Italian, alas, is not yet capacious enough to carry off either. Unlike her works in English—which depict dislocation with an intimate precision—the prose in Whereabouts is spare but inexact, the translation intentionally retaining a rough edge ... her self-imposed exile limits rather than liberates.
Though plotless, the novel remains compelling, as a peephole into a mind sequestered from others. What lies behind the narrator’s unyielding solitude remains obscure. Portraying such a character, mysteriously adrift in an urban landscape, Whereabouts feels like a movie by Michelangelo Antonioni, and there’s something cinematic about the way the novel progresses spatially, each chapter exhibiting a new place, plotted out as a map rather than a timeline ... Where her English thrived on the particular, Lahiri’s Italian reaches for the universal. Astonishingly, Whereabouts contains not a single proper noun: nothing to identify individuals or places. Yet with a burst of adjectives, it manages to nail the experience of all of us wading through liquid modernity ... offers a stylish and therapeutic release.
... a slim, sparse book, a series of essayistic vignettes examining the travails of a solitary woman on the verge of an existential breakdown ... mournful...though tinged with a more muted sense of sorrow and dislocation. It signals a new mode for Lahiri as well, and an even more daring transformation ... Lahiri’s novel circles around the anguish of a self turned in on itself ... Whereabouts....simmers on a low boil ... true and wise to the core.
A quietly bracing work of fiction ... If Whereabouts is intended to mark Lahiri’s freedom from her vexed relationship to language and identity, one wonders why it is also such a sad and lonely story ... Though Lahiri’s prose has always been elegantly understated, the language in Whereabouts is pared down further still. Perhaps this is born out of a forced economy of expression, but the result is refreshing—the kind of exactitude that comes when you use only the words you need. The language feels not thin but reserved and mature, like that of someone who has grown tired of small talk ... perhaps this novel is best read as a rumination on the consequences of such a fantasy.
This is an oddly unsettling but beautifully written new book by Jhumpa Lahiri ... it feels like Italy ... It feels like poetry but is prose. The depth of detail is everywhere ... Her writing shines as she conveys nature.
... what is sure to be one of the more unique 'novels' of the year ... there’s not much action in the story, which focuses instead on observations of every day life, both in the various spaces the narrator inhabits and her inner monologue. She has a writer’s eye for detail ... Each chapter floats by quickly, and this reader had trouble making it coalesce into a satisfying whole. Still, the prose is sparse and lyrical and the journey is enjoyable, wandering through an anonymous life, seeing things through one person’s eyes ... Some literary critics will love this novel novel even as some readers scratch their heads. Kudos to Lahiri for stretching the form and creating something that feels fresh.
Whereabouts wanders through the small ordinary days of its protagonist, a writer and professor who considers her half-chosen solitude 'a condition I try to perfect.' She attends drab academic conferences and ventures out to the occasional regrettable dinner party, though most hours drift by in a state of quiet unsettlement ... her muted prose conveys a sort of spare poetic melancholy. But her cool conversational tone can also feel too restrained, slanting less toward transcendence than the mere marking of time.
[Lahiri wrote] this novel in Italian, then translate[d] it into English. The result of this process is language that seems to have been sieved through a fine mesh, each word a gleaming gemstone. Such expressive refinement perfectly embodies Lahiri’s unnamed, solitary narrator, a woman in her forties who teaches at a university and lives alone in an unnamed Italian city ... There is melancholy here, but these concentrated, exquisitely detailed, poignant, and rueful episodes also pulse with the narrator’s devotion to observation and her pushing through depression to live on her terms ... With a painterly interplay of light and shadows, Lahiri creates an incisive and captivating evocation of the nature and nexus of place and self.
... slim but never slight ... Each vignette, only three or four pages long, feels like a beautifully wrapped gift ... Lahiri brilliantly elevates the quotidian to the sublime in this gorgeous stream-of-consciousness window into the interior life of an accomplished woman.
A year in the inner life of a solitary woman in an unnamed European city ....Its spare, reflective prose and profound interiority recall the work of Rachel Cusk and Sigrid Nunez as much as Lahiri's earlier fiction, which generally focused on the Indian immigrant experience in the U.S. Lahiri now lives in Italy, wrote this book in Italian, and translated it herself ... Elegant, subtle, and sad.
The latest from Pulitzer winner Lahiri is a meditative and aching snapshot of a life in suspension ... The tranquil surface of her life belies a deeper unrest: a frayed, distant relationship with her widowed mother, romantic longings projected onto unavailable friends, and constant second-guessing of the paths her life has taken. The novel is told in short vignettes introducing a new scene and characters whose relationships are fertile ground for Lahiri’s impressive powers of observation ... Throughout, Lahiri’s poetic flourishes and spare, conversational prose are on full display. This beautifully written portrait of a life in passage captures the hopes, frustrations, and longings of solitude and remembrance.